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Nice (but not too pricey) dinner in Chicago

My boyfriend is from Chicago, and we're heading back there for Christmas. We'll be there for a week and a half, and because we stay with his parents, we usually eat at home. Because we'll be there a little longer this time, I'm thinking we'll have a time to go out to dinner at least once on our own.

We're foodies, so I am looking for something delicious and maybe even kind of a dining experience. However, we are recent graduates, so don't have a lot of money to spend. I'm thinking $10-20 an entree (preferably closer to $10). I don't even know where to start. Any suggestions?

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  1. There are lots of places where you can get great food with entrees under $20. Closer to $10 is less common but there are still some options. Another way of stretching your budget is to go out for a nice lunch rather than a nice dinner; many restaurants have better deals at lunchtime.

    What part of the city will you be staying in (city neighborhood or suburban town)?

    13 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      We'll be staying in Ravenswood, so north end of the city. But we'll have train passes, so can go anywhere we please. I'm always up for exploring.

      1. re: annief

        Lots of good restaurants in Ravenswood at your price point, though not much fancy decor.
        Thai: Aroy Thai, Spoon Thai, Opart Thai
        Thin-crust pizza: Spacca Napoli
        German: Laschett's Inn
        Mexican: Mixteco Grill
        Sweidsh: Tre Konor

        1. re: annief

          Ravenswood is next to Lincoln Park. Search this board for suggestions re: "Lincoln Square". I guess places like Goosefoot are out of the question for you since you wish to spend only $10-$20 pp for your entree. Why not head over to Broadway & Argyle, then, just a hop step & skip from you, and pig out on Vietnamese - or have the Peking Duck** splurge at Sun Wah BBQ on Broadway just N of Argyle? (search this board also for commentary on *that*)

          ** It's really more of the Cantonese version of Peking duck.

          1. re: huiray

            >> Ravenswood is next to Lincoln Park.

            Only if you ignore Lakeview and North Center, which are in between Ravenswood and Lincoln Park. :)

            Did you mean Lincoln Square?

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Oops, I meant Ravenswood is next to Lincoln Square, not Lincoln Park. :-)
              [I *did* say "search for Lincoln Square" on this board in the next breath... ;-) ]

            2. re: huiray

              Fork in Lincoln Square is also very good, upscale comfort food with a number of small plate options. Great beer list.

              1. re: ferret

                Except that - depending on the OP's and her BF's appetites - those small plates could quickly add up to a fair bit of money...plus the alcohol...
                http://forkchicago.net/

                Quite frankly, nowadays $10-15 for dinner entrees in a Western/European cuisine mode doesn't get you too far if you're after "nice food" in a "nice place". Not when you'll spend that much and more for a nondescript dinner in Applebee's or Ruby Tuesday.

                1. re: huiray

                  They have full-size entrees in the $10-20 range and when I read $10-$20 for an entree I'm also assuming a shared appetizer or two. They can read the menu and decide.

                2. re: huiray

                  Here's a video of both back-of-house and table-side scenes at Sun Wah. Amongst other things it has footage of how the duck is made, starting at 1:33 into the video; as well as the wheeling-out and table-side carving of that "Peking" Duck starting at 2:10 into the video. :-)
                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhx-V...

                3. re: annief

                  I'll start with four recommendations for *nice* places, then I'll mention some inexpensive ethnic options, and more.

                  First, I'll second the recommendation above for Mixteco Grill, in Lakeview/Ravenswood. Creative contemporary Mexican cuisine, with average entree prices in the high teens. http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...

                  For a really nice dinner without spending a fortune, I also like Deleece on Southport, also in Lakeview. Contemporary American cuisine in an upscale bistro setting, entrees around $20. www.deleece.com

                  Sable is another remarkable bargain. It's in River North, near the Grand stop on the CTA Red Line. They serve delicious contemporary American fare in a small plates format, and most of the dishes are available in half portions so you can try even more items. Most items under $20, many around $10 or less, especially for half portions. You can stuff yourself for $25-30 of food. Don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee! www.sablechicago.com

                  Another place that does an inexpensive small plates format is GT Oyster & Fish in River North. If you enjoy delicious fresh seafood, it's a great choice, with almost all of their items under $20, and many are generous portion sizes too. Make reservations as far in advance as possible, as they have been filling up their reservations book every night. www.gtoyster.com

                  Ethnic storefront restaurants are a great way to stretch your budget. There are lots of Indian/Pakistani places in West Rogers Park on Devon between Sacramento and Western, Vietnamese places around Argyle and Broadway (e.g. Tank Noodle), and you-know-what in Chinatown (my favorites are Double Li and Lao Sze Chuan).

                  And don't forget our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza! You can't go wrong with Lou Malnati's. The nearest one to Ravenswood is in Lincoln Park at Sheffield and Lincoln (958 W. Wrightwood). www.loumalnatis.com

                  Glenn's Diner is a restaurant in Ravenswood that specializes in fresh seafood. Prices vary greatly; about half are under $20. www.glennsdiner.com

                  There are also some excellent restaurants that specialize in breakfast and brunch near Ravenswood, including Marmalade right in Ravenswood ( www.marmaladechicago.com ), M. Henry in Andersonville ( www.mhenry.net ), and Bongo Room in Uptown ( www.thebongoroom.com ).

                  It would be a good idea to try making reservations at these places, or at least call to ask them if they accept them, and if not, how long you're likely to wait. That way you can avoid the risk of going to a place that doesn't accept reservations (such as Purple Pig), only to find that the wait to be seated is two hours long.

                  You'll find a lot of tips about how to get great food along with great value for the money in this discussion:

                  Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - www.chow.com/topics/697829

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    I don't know if this will make any difference in the experience, but Glenn is out at Glenn's:

                    http://www.centersquarejournal.com/ne...

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      >> Ethnic storefront restaurants are a great way to stretch your budget. There are lots of Indian/Pakistani places in West Rogers Park on Devon between Sacramento and Western, Vietnamese places around Argyle and Broadway (e.g. Tank Noodle), and you-know-what in Chinatown (my favorites are Double Li and Lao Sze Chuan).

                      I can't believe I forgot to mention Greek Town! Most of the Greek restaurants there will fit your budget nicely.

                4. If you go out on a weeknight there are some nice restaurants that offer reduced prix fixe options certain nights of the week - so you could have a nice three course meal for a reasonable price:

                  HB Restaurant in Lakeview: New American cuisine and is BYOB so no booze charges. On Wednesdays for just $30 you can pick any appetizer, entree and dessert off the menu (occasionally they have a couple specials that may have a small surcharge if selected). One of the best deals in town. Definitely book in advance as they sell out; you need to call them to make reservations: http://www.homebistrochicago.com/

                  Browntrout in North Center on Wednesday also has a three course prix fixe where the entire menu is fair game; the cost if $35 and they are not BYOB, so a bit more pricey. They are on Open Table. http://www.browntroutchicago.com/Defa...

                  North Pond: On Sundays they offer a $33 three course prix fixe brunch; it is more of a lunch focused than breakfast focused brunch and there are four choices for each course. Beautiful setting in the heart of Lincoln Park overllooking the park, pond and Chicago skyline. The chef there recently won the James Beard for best Midwest chef. A great bargain and wonderful food and setting, but service sometimes is a little stuffy. http://www.northpondrestaurant.com/

                  If you do not want to be restricted to Wednesday or Sunday for these deals, a couple prior suggestions I also really like including Sun Wah (daily prix fixe for a three course peking duck meal) and Mixteco Grill (great Mexican cuisine and is BYOB). Some other choices if you are adventurous eaters that are not terrible expensive include Peasantry in Lincoln Park, The Bristol in Bucktown or Purple Pig (Downtown). If you like Indian I really enjoy Marigold.

                  1. A couple of stops south on the Brown line (Paulina or Addison) will put you in walking distance of Turquoise Cafe which has some good Turkish specialties at your price point.
                    http://www.turquoisedining.com/

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jbw

                      Another very good suggestion. I find myself thinking, "why didn't I think of that?"

                    2. I'd chose Sun Wah personally at your price point - such good food for so little money! plus you can byob. And Sable might work nicely too but you'll be tempted to add their great cocktails so factor that into your budget. Another option would be to see if any of the Gdine offers work for you - I haven't tried them but it always looks like a deal: http://www.gdine.com/search/ganderpage.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Siun

                        Another good deal site is Savored, which applies a credit (usually 30 percent) to your food and drink bill. http://savored.com/chicago

                      2. I agree on Mixteco and Sun Wah. I also really like Anteprima which has a 3 course $29 prifix on Sun-Thurs and, in Albany Park, I like Semiramis for middle eastern and it is BYOB.